Q: Attached are photos that show damage caused to Ponderosa pines by huge winter snowdrifts in south central North Dakota. The weight of the snow bent and broke lower branches. Can any of the broken branches be salvaged by tying them up like a graft? — Margaret Bitz, Fargo
Old gardening humor describes the best way to tell whether a newly emerging spring plant is a weed or a valuable perennial. Tug on it. If it pulls out easily, it was a valuable perennial. If it remains stubbornly in place, it's a weed. As important as recognizing weeds from perennials is separating adapted trees and shrubs from non-adapted. Everyone wants their trees and shrubs to survive and flourish, especially those we've just bought and planted. Unfortunately, some plants sold in the Upper Midwest are not winter-hardy or adapted to our conditions.
Have you ever noticed that people who enjoy their yards and gardens like talking about plants nearly as much as they enjoy growing them? Striking up a conversation is easy. Just ask “Have you ever tried… (fill in the blank with the name of any plant)?”
Q: You recently mentioned Magnolia stellata, Star magnolia, for our region. Here's a photo of ours, planted about six years ago. It has been beautiful each spring, even though it hasn't really grown, and is probably getting a bit weaker each year. Still, fun to have. I would be interested in hearing your opinion of the plum, Mount Royal. Ours is beginning its fourth year. We harvested about four dozen last summer, and they were better tasting than any I have ever purchased. - Gerald Van Amburg, Moorhead.
It's almost here—the moment we've all been waiting for. May arrives on Monday, and if we select one month that's most important for our yards and gardens, this is it. In the Upper Midwest, May is the month when vegetable gardens and flowerbeds are planted, grass is seeded, lawns are fertilized and tree and shrub planting commences in earnest. The all-important final spring frost is usually in May, signaling the start of the growing season.
Q: My daughter sent me the attached photo of a shrub, showing white flowers and plump, furry buds. She just moved into a house in the Twin Cities and we don't know what kind of shrub it is. Can you help identify it? - Gail, Fargo.
In the past, I've described how gardening teaches patience, and quietly waiting for trees to mature, apple trees to bear and perennials to flower is a pleasant exercise in accepting nature's growth at its own measured stride. Well, forget all that when it comes to tomatoes. It's a race to the finish line. We've waited all winter for a homegrown tomato, and time is of the essence. Follow these guidelines for a bountiful crop of tomatoes, while cooperating with Mother Nature to speed it up a bit.
Q: Voles stripped the bark from my hydrangea and ninebark shrubs. The hydrangea is growing from ground level. Can I cut it down to that point? I pruned the ninebark back to foot-long stems and it's budding but not looking great. Would it be better to prune it to the ground or is it too late? - Gene Martel, Bismarck
Deciding among apple varieties can be confusing. We all know what happened to Adam and Eve. They obviously chose poorly when deciding which apple tree to harvest. There's a big difference in apples. Once America's most popular variety, the Red Delicious apple is going the way of the buggy whip, sidelined by more flavorful types. We needn't worry, because Red Delicious isn't winter hardy for our region anyway. Besides, we've got better tasting types that are well-suited to our climate. In fact, we've got so many options it's difficult to pick a preference.
Q: I live in a condo without space to plant a large garden. I love sugar peas and I'm wondering if they could be successfully grown in planters and trained as vines up my patio railing. If so, should I plant them soon and what is the best soil to use?—Gen E., Fargo A: Patio Pride is a great pea variety that won an All-America Selections award for its ability to grow in containers. Sweet, tender pods are ready to harvest in about 40 days from seeding. A short trellis between the pot and patio railing will give good support to the compact vines.